Art is, perhaps, one of the most expensive things I’ve ever done. And yet the process from setting pen or pencil to paper and producing something coherent seems effortless, flawless, quick, and easy. We make it easy, because we’ve had years of training. Patient family, if exasperated, and careful teachers, studious research, and years upon years of not-so-easy toil, practicing, grinding, suffering to be able to draw out leviathan from the page — all this goes into producing something so simple as a line drawing like so:
Now, this was originally done as part of a skeletal reconstruction:
The extremely long-legged Triassic crocodylomorphan Terrestrisuchus gracilis here was produced after a lot of additional research before I put pencil to paper to draw the bones. The outline is one of the last things done. The drawing looks almost exactly like this without the graying and the black.
At some point down the road I decided that my skeletals, at the time largely unique for the style, were free to use. Free, but not without responsibility. I offered them up as openly available, but still required citation. I wanted people to see, and to use them, without having to pay me. It would be later that I settled on using CC-BY for all my skeletal illustrations, but prior to this I have never wavered: my skeletals are free to use, even to modify, so long as I am cited.
Attribution — You must give appropriate credit, provide a link to the license, and indicate if changes were made. You may do so in any reasonable manner, but not in any way that suggests the licensor endorses you or your use. [from CC-BY license.]
This offering came at a cost. I am struggling. I am not financially well off, and am trying to make ends meet with my art. It becomes a problem when, after I’ve make some public requests for assistance, my art appears in publications without reference to me, the artist. This problem is not limited to me; it affects a great number of artists, even in the field of paleontology. But despite this, I knew that my art should be shared, and that I can give this up without pain so long as my name appears somewhere as the source of the image.
So color me shocked when, in a new paper by Lindsay Zanno and colleagues appears in Science’s new ejournal Scientific Reports on a large-bodied basal crocodylomorphan from the Triassic Pekin Formation of North Carolina, uses the above illustration.
Mind you, it was modified: no previous version existed in silhouette form until now. A quick check on my hard drive and at Phylopic confirms this. I’ve been lazy in rendering illustrations to silhouette form, but it’s not really excusable: there are actually hundreds of illustrations at Phylopic that are free to use, requiring various forms of CC licensing to be adhered to. CC-BY is not an onerous burden on the author, merely requiring that the originating author’s name follow the illustration wherever it goes. It’s fairly simple.
I am not bringing this up because I somehow want credit. I am bringing this up because it’s a problem, even in paleoart, even in scientific illustration, that oftentimes too many of us are simply sidelined or our work forgotten. How do we even get access to authors who want to pay for our work, if they can just take from us? How do interested parties, wanting that style, find the artist — potentially earning us a contract? It is frustrating, because as an aspiring researcher desiring accreditation, I want the same level of respect that is offered to a cited work under review, and I strive to provide similar credit where possible. It is frustrating, because these are my potential, future peerage who are pulling the credit rug out from beneath me. Even writing this makes me feel red-faced, that I might say the wrong thing.
But I’m saying it. Give us the respect you give at least to the authors whom you cite, even in disagreement, so that we may, actually, be more visible. People like Mike Keesey, who started Phylopic, and others like Drs. Matt Wedel, Mark Witton, Andy Farke, and many many more, are striving to push aside the cloak that concealed many artists struggling in the shadows to get the small, tiny effort expended where their effort isn’t forgotten, obscured, hidden, or taken. I make no such claims to the latter in this post: I do not ascribe to malice here, but merely oversight.
Please, the merest respect our work deserves is that you credit us.
Zanno, L. E., Drymala, S., Nesbitt, S. J. & Schneider, V. P. 2015. Early crocodylomorph increases top tier predator diversity during rise of dinosaurs. Scientific Reports 5 (9276): 1-6.